BULLET POINTS FROM VALENTINE’S DAY
By Angelo Fernando
Each time there’s a school shooting in the US, we hear the same tired response. The air and social media become thick with ‘thoughts and prayers.’ Soon, the sadness and horror dissipate, only to be replaced by the culture wars between pro-Second Amendment advocates and those taking an antigun stance.
The principle of the Second Amendment to the US constitution is as dated as its language. Adopted in 1791, it reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
Worst of all are the boilerplate explanations, fingerpointing and nicely worded statements. The boilerplates include: “We will continue to oppose gun control measures that only serve to punish law-abiding citizens. We need serious proposals to prevent violent criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from acquiring firearms.”
Don’t you love these carefully crafted statements?
Well, they are from the National Rifle Association (NRA). The word ‘firearms’ once referred to muskets. It sounds so much nicer than the words ‘automatic rifles that spit out hundreds of rounds in seconds.’
Within a week of the Florida school shooting, teenagers who survived the massacre came out swinging, calling out these statements for what they are!
One student, Emma Gonzalez, had this to say at an antigun rally: “They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS! They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS! They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS! They say that no laws could have been able to prevent the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS!”
The students practically disinvited President Donald Trump who was planning to arrive at the school. They had the megaphone! They realised that despite their grief, they could turn the very attention they were attracting into a powerful boom box and send a clear message to the adults in the state houses and Congress.
NO MORE SPIN Few spin doctors would want to debate this crowd. The pundits are armed with ‘facts’ but would be no match for those who have more anger than grief. The older generation defending a two and a quarter century old line in the constitution argues that it is one of our inalienable rights.
Florida Governor Marco Rubio got an earful when he met them. But as the students pointed out, with a rate of 3.12 deaths for every 100,000 people, something is wrong. They correlate this with there being 88.8 guns for every 100 people. But numbers cannot match the power of an 18 or 19-year-old who has just seen bullets rip through his classroom where paper balls once flew. And yet, the ‘guns don’t kill people, people do’ argument is trotted out after every shooting – so often that it’s now a rich internet meme.
Writer and lawyer Michael Shammas put this statement in perspective when he said that Kim Jong-un could say “nukes don’t kill people, people kill people” as a counterpoint to demands that he gives up his nuclear ambitions.
Other students in Florida commented on the absurdity of them being of legal age to purchase an assault weapon suitable for war but considered underage to buy alcohol.
BALLOT ACTIVISM There have been many tipping points following gun massacres but never such thoughtful activism. Students may seem too inexperienced to demand constitutional amendments or lobby for stricter gun laws but the topic of guns is in their curriculum.
On that horrific Valentine’s Day, it became more than merely a chapter in a textbook. In fact, as Gonzales noted, students in the Advanced Placement Government class (also known as AP Gov) in their school were possibly having discussions on the subject of guns while others were hiding in closets.
The syllabus calls for an understanding of ‘political ideologies and beliefs,’ and the US ‘foundational documents,’ which involve constitutional freedoms. It encourages students to develop evidence based arguments and what political participation means.
We can expect to see this put into practice very soon – possibly a top ballot issue in state and presidential elections because students have begun making sure their demands are taken seriously.
The real tipping point is that they’re the next generation to receive voting rights in the next few years. Their activism will give new meaning to that old phrase: ‘The ballot is more powerful than the bullet.’